The differential effects of EPA and DHA on cardiovascular risk factors

Proc Nutr Soc. 2011 May;70(2):215-31. doi: 10.1017/S0029665111000061. Epub 2011 Feb 24.


Compelling evidence exists for the cardioprotective benefits resulting from consumption of fatty acids from fish oils, EPA (20:5n-3) and DHA (22:6n-3). EPA and DHA alter membrane fluidity, interact with transcription factors such as PPAR and sterol regulatory element binding protein, and are substrates for enzymes including cyclooxygenase, lipoxygenase and cytochrome P450. As a result, fish oils may improve cardiovascular health by altering lipid metabolism, inducing haemodynamic changes, decreasing arrhythmias, modulating platelet function, improving endothelial function and inhibiting inflammatory pathways. The independent effects of EPA and DHA are poorly understood. While both EPA and DHA decrease TAG levels, only DHA appears to increase HDL and LDL particle size. Evidence to date suggests that DHA is more efficient in decreasing blood pressure, heart rate and platelet aggregation compared to EPA. Fish oil consumption appears to improve arterial compliance and endothelial function; it is not yet clear as to whether differences exist between EPA and DHA in their vascular effects. In contrast, the beneficial effect of fish oils on inflammation and insulin sensitivity observed in vitro and in animal studies has not been confirmed in human subjects. Further investigation to clarify the relative effects of consuming EPA and DHA at a range of doses would enable elaboration of current understanding regarding cardioprotective effects of consuming oily fish and algal sources of long chain n-3 PUFA, and provide clearer evidence for the clinical therapeutic potential of consuming either EPA or DHA-rich oils.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cardiovascular System / drug effects*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / therapeutic use*
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / pharmacology
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Lipids / blood*
  • Risk Factors


  • Lipids
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid